THE Chaudhry brothers of Gujrat, who have remained relevant in the national politics for decades, seem to have reached a point where their much-publicised family ties have all but snapped off. Their elders may have never imagined such a situation. The reason: a split in the political opinion among their offspring that is casting a cloud over the future of their politics.
Differences among the scions of the Chaudhrys — Shujaat Hussain, his cousin Parvez Elahi and brother Wajahat Hussain — started surfacing when the nine-party coalition, spearheaded by the PML-N and PPP, approached their party — the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) — back in February with a ‘lucrative package’, including the Punjab chief minister’s office, ministries both in the Centre and Punjab and future seat adjustments with PML-N in exchange for withdrawing their support for Imran Khan and helping them oust him from the office of prime minister through a no-confidence motion.
There was an impression that the Chaudhry family may not have come to the verge of falling apart had the powerful military establishment given the PML-Q a clear signal about which side it should choose — the PML-N-led alliance or Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
It is an open secret that the Chaudhry brothers are ‘very close’ to the establishment. But apparently this time, the powerful quarters did not give the PML-Q any line of action at the time of moving the no-trust resolution against Khan, as the establishment had declared itself “neutral”. There were also reports that some pro-Khan elements within the establishment wanted Chaudhry Parvez Elahi to keep supporting the PTI. However, the PML-Q dismisses this impression, saying “supporting Mr Khan was purely a decision of Mr Elahi and his son, MNA Moonis Elahi, backed by Wajahat’s son, MNA Hussain Elahi, and party activists”.
In the current scenario, Punjab Assembly Speaker Elahi, former federal minister Wajahat and their sons Moonis and Hussain, respectively, have preferred to maintain their alliance with the PTI, while PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat and his sons, MNA Salik Hussain and Shafay Hussain, entered the ruling coalition camp along with two other party MNAs. Salik has also been inducted into Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s cabinet.
The real problem or challenge the Chaudhrys are facing today is evolving a consensus to bring the entire family on the same page.
The Elahi camp, practically led by Moonis — who was a part of the Imran Khan cabinet, is strongly against trusting the Sharifs once again because of their unpleasant past. The Shujaat group, headed by Salik and Shafay Hussain, sees their political future ‘better protected’ going along with Nawaz Sharif’s party.
A relative of the Chaudhrys was of the view that, in fact, PML-Q workers wanted their leadership to stay allied with the PTI, as the party had a historic rivalry with the PML-N in Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin constituencies. “So Mr Elahi respected their wish and demand.”
“How can we go along with the PML-N, against whom we have been contesting elections for several years?” questioned the relative in a conversation with Dawn.
“Salik and Shafay have not yet seen the true faces of the Sharifs because they have never been involved in constituency politics. That is why they are keen on befriending the PML-N and doing future politics from that platform. Besides, both brothers are also seeing temporary benefits, as Shehbaz has included Salik into his cabinet. But in the longer run, who knows both siblings may be ditched by the Sharifs as Mr Elahi was in the past,” he maintains.
Chaudhry Shujaat’s brother, Chaudhry Shafaat Hussain, told Dawn that the family had 99 per cent split. “Differences among the Chaudhrys have existed for quite some time, but have come to the fore only now,” he said, adding the cracks widened further when Mr Elahi chose to stick to the PTI despite the fact that Shujaat had given his words to the PML-N-led alliance.
“Chaudhry Shujaat stood by his words and now there are no chances he will withdraw his support to the coalition government. It is also almost certain that Shujaat sahib’s sons will contest the next polls either in alliance with the PML-N or from that platform,” said Shafaat, who has served as the Gujrat district nazim and is not politically active because of differences with the other Chaudhrys.
He now intends to contest the next elections from Gujrat, but has not yet decided on the party platform.
In the 2018 general polls and by-elections, cousins Moonis, Salik and Hussain had won from Gujrat (NA-69), Chakwal (NA-65) and Gujrat (NA-68), respectively.
Shafay is keen to contest the next elections from Gujrat city.
Recently, PPP leader Asif Zardari, CM Hamza and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman separately met with the Chaudhry Shujaat camp of the PML-Q to reaffirm its support for the ruling coalition.
Choices with Elahi and Shujaat camps
In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict within the family, the Elahi clan appears to have two choices at hand: accept Imran’s offer to join the PTI, or form a breakaway faction of the PML -- maybe PML-Parvez.
Accepting Imran’s reported offer means Speaker Elahi will be the future candidate for the Punjab chief minister’s slot from the PTI, as the party does not have its own nominee of the same stature, especially following the failed Buzdar experiment. Currently, the speaker is a joint candidate of the PTI-PML-Q for the CM’s office in case a run-off election is held, as the incumbent Hamza Shehbaz has lost majority in the Punjab Assembly after de-seating of 25 PTI MPAs by the ECP over defection.
Besides, the PTI leadership has also offered Mr Elahi to field candidates of his choice in Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin districts after joining the PTI.
Similarly, Shujaat and sons also have two options: exit the ruling coalition to send the Shehbaz government home and rejoin the PTI, or continue with the current alliance and explore future seat adjustments with the Sharifs or even join their party.
A senior PML-Q leader told Dawn a final huddle among the Chaudhrys and their sons will be held in the next few days to amicably settle this “difficult phase” the family is going through. If they don’t agree, a formal break-up is imminent, says the leader.
Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2022